Pushing Ideas Out Of The Nest

When I was becoming more traditionally observant, a phrase from this week’s Torah portion became an important motto for me: After hearing Moses relay these laws given by God, the people say: “All that God has said, we will do, and we will hear – naaseh v’nishma(Exodus 24:7).

At that time, I was stuck weighing whether I should adopt new mitzvot. Kashrut, Shabbat observance, prayer – each of them needed a long process of consideration from me. However, a friend shared with me this teaching. When it comes to taking on mitzvot, the Israelites didn’t weigh each one individually at Sinai. They said, na’aseh v’nishma. We’ll do it first, and then we’ll understand it. That takes some serious faith.

Of course, there are situations when we want to fully research and plan before acting – medical procedures, school choices, and car purchases come to mind. Other situations, though, need action in order to figure out solutions, not planning and research.

We are in just such a time in Jewish communal life. At a time of great instability and change, coming out of the pandemic and into new realities we don’t yet fully understand, it might seem prudent to spend 6-12 months creating a new strategic plan for our organization. In all likelihood, though, that plan will be out of date as soon as it’s finished.

Instead, let’s take our cue from the world of user-centered design: After listening to your people about what they want, the goal is to quick-design a pilot, in order to get immediate feedback on it. It need not be the full-blown offering: it should have just enough of the features that it’s a good test, but not all the bells and whistles. Get it out the door and hear how it went, and then – and this is the key – then incorporate their feedback into another pilot version and try again.

For example, let’s say you are a JCC trying to increase parent engagement at your Sunday morning children’s classes. Maybe you get the idea to reinvent the lobby, so that parents stick around, talk to each other and to JCC staff, and enjoy healthy drinks and exercise tips. Great idea! You could spend the next 6-12 months planning construction and interior design to install a juice bar and comfortable seating, not to mention raising the required tens of thousands of dollars. But why not instead spend $500 on a new juicer and some ingredients, rearrange the existing furniture or pull in furniture from other rooms, and add two hours to a few staff members’ schedules? You could test out your idea in only a week’s time if you put your mind to it!

We’re sometimes convinced that everything we put out there has to be perfect. We want to ask our people for their input first, of course. But then, could we say, let’s do it and learn from it. Let’s try something new and let people teach us how it went. Let’s discover through action, instead of only through research.

It’s a mindset shift: from waiting until we learn everything there is to know so we can finally act, to acting in order to learn. Right now, we can’t process all there is to know; we don’t even have complete information. Can we push more of our ideas out of the nest? Can we be a little messier, a little less perfect, and invite our people to experiment alongside us? What would happen if we said na’aseh v’nishma more often?


*Photo by Joan Wiitanen

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